This is not a panic-mode-driven message. Just studying the stats as of today to see who has the hot hand. Who is missing bats, and who is not?
Bailey is tearing it up, and I've been documented as saying he is prime for his breakout year. This is not to say he's going to take the hill today and throw a 2-hitter, but I think when his season is complete, barring another elongated stint on the DL, we're going to be very pleased with the development of Homer. Very, very pleased. (it was worth repeating.)
We have two other pitchers who, in my opinion, have the potential to be an electrifying duo for years to come in the Leake/Wood tandem. It is not surprising in the slightest that both of them are encountering some trouble, much like Bailey did in his second year. It happens to the very best pitchers who have ever taken the mound, including hall of fame pitchers. It's no reason to worry, no reason to complain...it's actually natural and expected. We fans just get impatient, that's all.
Right now, even though Wood pitched a decent game yesterday, he's getting beat up pretty regularly. Opponents are hitting .315 off him, so he's not fooling anyone. Leake's peripherals are better than Wood's. His WHIP is lower and batters are hitting .260 off him - 0.55 better than Wood.
I'm not just blowing smoke when I say both of these pitchers have the potential to have outstanding careers. I'm basing this argument on a statistical comparison to the first three years of established TOR starters and both of their stat lines compare favorably. I'm in no way throwing in the towel on either of these guys, but right now, the Reds are in a unique situation:
There is a glut of starting pitching. I'd say there are eight candidates vying for five spots currently. If the Reds were inclined to award these five slots strictly based on stats up to this point, I'd argue the rotation should look like this:
That leaves out Cueto, Leake, and Wood. Three pitchers I consider central to the core of Cincinnati's rotation over the next several years.
Cueto is the wild card here. His stats aren't that impressive yet, but he's shown he can dominate MLB batters when he is on. I'd like to see him start two or three more games in the minors since the Reds can actually afford that luxury - but they've already determined he's starting on Sunday.
That said, I'd really like to see them start Willis on Sunday instead of Cueto. Although Dontrelle was roughed up a bit in his most-recent start, he's put together a very, very nice start to the season. His strikeout total is high, his walk total is low, and batters are hitting only .241 against him. Not only would that allow him to prove he can get MLB hitters out (or disprove) but it would buy more time for Cueto.
LeCure is doing a good job of proving me wrong. I never considered him starter material for this club, lumping him in with Matt Maloney. What has he done? He's stepped up to the task and gotten batters out, that's what. Opponents are hitting only. 238 off him and his K/9 ratio is 7.89 (matches his hits/9.) The guy is growing on me and if the Reds are able to get that kind of production out of a #5 starter all year, this team is going to be FINE.
As for Maloney, I've said this since I watched him pitch a game for the Bats in Toledo last season: I'm not sold on him, and in my opinion, the Reds have far too much talent and depth to continue giving him opportunities on the big club. Maybe he'll develop into a quality pitcher at Louisville this season, and then become a useful and effective addition to the pen in the coming years, but there is no room for him as a starter unless the Reds suffer an ungodly amount of injuries.
Speaking of the pen: Using the same, statistical approach, the relievers should shake out like this: (in no particular order)
Jordan Smith is getting utterly rocked. Opponents are hitting a whopping .348 off him and he's trending in the wrong direction. He's allowed 23 hits in 17 innings - while striking out only 11. Again - we have too much depth to continue trotting him to the mound. I like the guy, actually, and think he could blossom when he "clicks" - but right now, he's stalling.
Masset gets a pass from me right now. Like Cueto, he's proven he can dominate MLB hitting, and his start this season is eerily similar to last year. He's a guy who CAN miss bats, and can be an incredibly valuable arm at the back of the pen.
CoCo is pitching likely his final year for the Reds, and to his credit, he's doing everything he's asked to do right now. No, I don't think he's our most dominant reliever, but he has a closer's mentality. All you have to do is take a look at yesterday's performance by Brandon Lyon to count your lucky stars that we have someone like CoCo to take the mound in the 9th. Ryan Franklin is another example. Yes, Coco will blow a save now and then - but so will just about ANYONE you run to the mound 40-50 times a year to close a game.
Arrendondo is another guy who excites me. I like guys who miss bats, obviously. His sample size is small this year, but his stuff leaves no doubt. For whatever reason, he's had the propensity to allow a higher-than-expected number of home runs. I'm hoping he works his way out of that, because his strikeout total is impressive. Exactly what you want to see from a reliever. I'd like to see him replace Jordan.
Fischer is living on borrowed time. He's pitched well on the big club so far this season, and I'd rather see him take the mound than Jordan right now, but he's had many chances to prove his MLB worthy and hasn't really capitalized on that. Maybe this is his year. If he can improve his control that would help greatly. He gets a decent number of Ks, so there is definitely potential there.
Once things shake out this year, I would expect to see a mid-July rotation of:
This, unless Willis somehow returns to his early-career form. If that happens, you simply cannot remove him from the rotation. I'm not counting on it, but anything is possible. I give Wood the nod over Leake simply because he's a lefty.
Dreaming for a second, could you imagine our rotation if ALL of the following were pitching up to their hype (and were starters)?
Holy crap that would be a lot of strikeouts....but back to reality....
Leake has never spent time in the minors and I think he needs to mature and develop there. Eventually, he will replace Arroyo in the rotation, which will be one of the youngest and most promising in the league. In the meantime, the Reds would be VERY lucky if Bailey, Cueto, and Volquez all survive the season without another trip to the DL, so that's where Willis, Leake and LeCure are such valuable pieces to this puzzle. Other clubs should be drooling over the type of depth on the Reds.